EVERETT — A tax refund scam involving personal information stolen from people connected to the Seattle Archdiocese has hit close to home.
Several police agencies in Snohomish County are fielding reports of suspected identity theft related to the phony tax returns.
Just how many people are victims and exactly how the scammers got the information isn’t known.
“That’s the $64,000 question right now,” said Greg Magnoni, a spokesman for the Seattle Archdiocese. “We have no actual information at this point.”
The Seattle Archdiocese oversees Catholic churches across Western Washington. Many people, depending on where they are in the tax filing process, don’t even know their personal information has been stolen, church officials said.
Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain wrote an open letter to church followers Monday confirming that some archdiocese employees and volunteers have been victims. Their Social Security numbers have been used in phony 2013 tax returns.
“We all hear about this kind of scam, and we hope that it will never touch us personally,” the archbishop wrote. “Now that it has, I want you to know of my care and concern.”
The Edmonds Police Department has received 42 identity theft reports “with more anticipated,” Sgt. Mark Marsh said.
A Mukilteo woman on Monday told police that she learned that her Social Security number had been used when she tried to file her taxes. Police in Mukilteo have received three such reports, detective Sgt. Cheol Kang said.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office has received “lots of walk in” reports at the various precincts, agency spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.
Local police departments are taking initial police reports and forwarding them to IRS agents.
It’s still unclear where the security breach occurred.
“We simply do not know how the problem originated, whether from systems within the archdiocese — including parishes and schools — or systems of vendors, or another outside source,” the archbishop wrote.
The archdiocese hired the forensic security company Stroz Friedberg to investigate. It also is working with the FBI Cyber Task Force and IRS.
Both agencies on Tuesday declined comment.
Tax refund fraud caused by identity theft is one of the biggest challenges facing the IRS, according to agency reports. Often, identity thieves try filing fraudulent refund claims using another person’s identifying information, which has been stolen. Those taxpayers’ refunds are delayed.
The IRS has more than 3,000 employees working on identity theft cases. It has trained more than 35,000 employees who work with taxpayers to recognize and provide assistance when identity theft occurs.
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For more information
The Seattle Catholic Archdiocese is encouraging parishioners and others who are concerned they might be victims of a tax refund scam to go the website www.seattlearchdiocese.org. They also can contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490, extension 245.